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Board games on a roll as families stay home

TOKYO >> Amid the COVID-19-induced stay-at-home requests, age-old pastimes of card and board games are experiencing a renaissance.

Take Nanja Monja, a card game introduced to Japan in 2016 by Sugorokuya, one of the nation’s largest game publishers. Created in Russia, the game features colorful illustrations of adorable monsters.

Also known as Toddles- Bobbles in English, the game has grown in popularity thanks to YouTube influencers praising its simplicity. Sales skyrocketed in April when the government issued the pandemic state of emergency.

“We sold about 190,000 sets that month alone,” said Koji Maruta, a former video game developer who founded Sugorokuya in 2006. “That’s compared to around 20,000 sets we sell in a typical month.”

Likewise, board, tile and other “analog” games are back in vogue.

Maruta said easy-to-play classics such as Uno have been in high demand as families look for ways to entertain themselves during self-imposed quarantines.

While sales at brick-and-mortar shops have plummeted, “thanks to the growth in online sales, we’ve managed to log strong revenue during the pandemic,” he said. “And while the number of visitors to our shops has declined, we intend to keep them open. Physical stores are integral in letting customers see and touch the games.”

Board games have been experiencing a resurgence over the past several years. According to Statista, their global market value, estimated at $7.2 billion in 2017, is forecast to reach $12 billion by 2023.

Thousands of games are produced each year, with crowdfunding campaigns enabling new developers to release a variety of titles. Online platforms connect fans, and popular YouTube shows and podcasts have shed light on the allure of the genre.

Tokyo-based gaming company ArcLight Inc. operates Game Market, the nation’s largest convention for “analog games” that don’t require electricity. The event was canceled this year, but last year, attendance reached 29,300. That’s compared to 2,200 attendees in 2010.

Ken Watanabe, general manager of ArcLight, said that while the company specializes in more complicated hobbyist games, it intends to shift some of its focus to entry-level gamers.

Sales of Ito, a card game for ages 10 and up, for example, have nearly doubled from pre-pandemic levels, and more retail outlets have been placing orders.

“Japan has a long history of playing tabletop games at home, such as go and hanafuda (Japanese playing cards),” he said. “But that changed when computer games became mainstream. Perhaps the coronavirus is drawing families back to the charm of … interacting with each other over physical games.”

Mizuki Awano, a Tokyo mother of two, became immersed in Catan, a board game from Germany, when her family stayed in during the state of emergency.

“We played Monopoly during our voluntary quarantine but became tired of it and picked up Catan,” she said. “We got hooked and played it to death, and I’m afraid our kids won’t touch it anymore.”

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